‘Not just a diet of Swan Lake and Cinderella’: the resurrection of London City Ballet

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Christopher Marney precocious received a very bully missive from Prince William and his wife. Thirty years ago, William’s mother, Diana, a ballet person and sometime dancer, had been patron of London City Ballet. That institution folded successful 1996 but Marney was connected a ngo to revive it. He sent nan royals immoderate photos of Diana pinch nan original company’s director, Harold King, “and they sent a beautiful missive back, wishing maine luck”. Was that all? No connection of royal patronage? “I don’t cognize astir going down that route,” says Marney pinch a faint smile. “I don’t cognize if it’s very us.”

Marney’s imagination for nan rebooted, 21st-century type of London City Ballet breaks from immoderate of nan much accepted ideas of nan creation form, arsenic forged primitively successful nan tribunal of Louis XIV. He wants a institution of dancers that bespeak nan present: a divers lineup successful age, ethnicity, acquisition and assemblage type, and – successful a subject wherever adults are still sometimes called “girls” and “boys” – an situation that treats dancers for illustration grownups. But astatine nan aforesaid time, interestingly, it’s a institution that’s purposefully staying connected to nan past, pinch a circumstantial remit to revive forgotten gems by brilliant choreographers and bring them backmost to life connected stage.

It is simply a brave, immoderate mightiness opportunity foolish, thought to motorboat a caller ballet institution erstwhile nan arts look to beryllium permanently successful situation by dint of a operation of backing cuts and inflation. But Marney is chipper erstwhile I meet him astatine nan company’s caller HQ. The assistance zooms up and opens consecutive into nan room, which makes it sound for illustration a New York penthouse but is simply a somewhat shoebox-sized agency successful a Victorian schoolhouse turned organization centre successful Islington, northbound London. Pinned connected to nan caller achromatic walls are headshots of nan company’s inaugural lineup. It is testament to nan respect Marney has successful nan manufacture and nan solidity of his thought that apical of nan list, and a spot of a coup, is impermanent creator Alina Cojocaru, 1 of nan world’s starring ballerinas. The London-based Romanian was antecedently a prima astatine nan Royal Ballet and English National Ballet (ENB) and has danced connected each awesome shape successful nan world.

Princess Diana visiting nan company’s founder, Harold King, circa 1983.
Royal support … Princess Diana visiting nan company’s founder, Harold King, circa 1983. Photograph: Alban Donohoe/Albanpix.com

Marney has picked up knowledgeable dancers who person near large companies for much elastic careers – ex-ENB main Alejandro Virelles, nan superb Cira Robinson, formerly of Ballet Black, and Joseph Taylor from Northern Ballet. There are dancers coming from companies successful Spain, Denmark, nan US and South Korea, and caller talents conscionable starting out. Eight of nan 16 were chosen done audition; 930 dancers from each complete nan world sent video footage (Marney watched it all), and 200 were invited to audition successful person.

On nan java array lies a heap of aged London City Ballet programmes that Marney bought connected eBay, making love from nan company’s founding successful 1978. Marney, who danced pinch ballet companies each complete Europe and pinch Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and was head of nan Joffrey Ballet Studio Company successful Chicago, could person group up a institution successful his ain name, but he cringes a small astatine nan thought. He loved nan thought of bringing London City Ballet backmost to life because it had a formative domiciled successful his ain creation history. One of nan programmes is from nan Queen’s theatre successful Hornchurch, Essex, wherever Marney saw London City Ballet execute successful 1991, aged 11. At nan clip he was successful nan theatre’s rep company, doing kid parts successful musicals and panto, but erstwhile he watched nan ballet, “I realised consecutive distant that was what I was attuned to, and that was my direction,” he says.

He and his mum followed nan dancers to shows successful Basildon and Chelmsford – it’s intolerable to ideate value ballet touring truthful wide now. Marney wants to connection thing arsenic accessible. He has six theatres signed up truthful far, positive a spot astatine Latitude show and a circuit successful China, but he hopes to circuit more, “not conscionable pinch a fare of Swan Lake and Cinderella”, but a overmuch richer scope of what ballet is, past and present.

London City Ballet’s Cinderella from 1995, pinch dancers Kim Miller and Marius Els.
You raise maine up … London City Ballet’s Cinderella from 1995, pinch dancers Kim Miller and Marius Els. Photograph: Peter Teigen

Marney met Harold King erstwhile he was training and they kept successful touch. “He had an impact,” says Marney. This was aft nan original London City Ballet had closed because of mounting debts. Money, of course, is nan important facet successful making immoderate of this happen. The caller company’s beingness hinges connected 1 anonymous Japanese sponsor, who provided nan first funding, and a mini circle of donors. Marney besides went done each those aged programmes and wrote to each sponsor and advertiser listed successful them, astir 60 successful all. “I had 2 responses,” he laughs, neither of which resulted successful existent cash. The money is not capable to money a full-time year-round institution truthful they are having to beryllium much agile, moving connected a six-to seven-month model, which suits immoderate of nan dancers who want to spell disconnected and do different projects.

The donors bought into nan thought of reviving mislaid works, and Marney’s investigation suggests location is an assemblage for it. For nan company’s first programme, he is bringing backmost Kenneth MacMillan’s 1972 ballet Ballade, successful collaboration pinch MacMillan’s widow, Deborah. MacMillan’s pieces (Romeo & Juliet, Manon, Mayerling) are immoderate of nan astir celebrated astatine nan Royal Ballet, wherever he was creator head successful nan 1970s, but Ballade was danced only once, connected a overseas circuit 50 years ago. The taxable is Kenneth and Deborah’s first day – they went to nan cinema connected Fulham Road – but Deborah has ne'er seen it before. There was nary video, truthful nan ballet has been reconstructed from a written people successful Benesh notation (written connected a stave, for illustration philharmonic notation), which had been sitting connected a dusty support astatine nan Royal Opera House each this time. “It’s fascinating,” says Marney. “The people tells you not conscionable nan steps, but nan intention, nan looks betwixt nan dancers, nan tempo.”

They will besides revive nan Larina Waltz from 1993 by Ashley Page, a erstwhile main dancer astatine nan Royal Ballet and head of Scottish Ballet for a decade. It’s a classical ballet, says Marney, but 1 that “really moves and eats up nan stage”. You mightiness inquire whether there’s a logic these ballets aren’t seen immoderate much (perhaps they weren’t that bully successful nan first place?), but Marney says that it’s conscionable that choreographers autumn retired of manner and location often aren’t recordings, truthful it doesn’t return agelong for pieces to beryllium forgotten.

It’s not conscionable astir nan oldies, though. Marney’s ain 2022 portion Eve is connected nan bill, and he’s commissioning a caller activity from Arielle Smith. The 28-year-old British Cuban choreographer is very overmuch nan female of nan moment, precocious making dances for San Francisco Ballet and English National Ballet that travel laced pinch humour, theatrical small heart and beardown female roles.

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What’s truthful superb astir Smith? “I conscionable emotion nan measurement she is pinch nan dancers successful nan studio,” says Marney. “You get nan champion results connected shape if it’s been a creation play wherever there’s been affirmative energy. She brings group retired of their comfortableness area and she encourages them to lend to nan process and location are nary ‘mistakes’, thing ‘wrong’ pinch what anyone does.” This is different from immoderate of Marney’s ain experiences. “In nan past you were a small spot conditioned into not speaking, doing arsenic you’re told.”

These days, nan civilization wrong creation companies is thing board are taking seriously. Ballet has had much than its adjacent stock of bullying stories and abuses of power, enabled by strict hierarchies that encouraged dancers to support silent and cognize their place. That is changing. “I really want to get things correct successful nan consciousness of doing it differently, and doing it for this generation. Running nan institution successful a measurement that is supportive of everybody,” says Marney. In his ain career, “I didn’t ever consciousness I had overmuch autonomy,” he says. He’s been putting together a codification of behaviour that nan dancers will besides provender into, “So that it’s a abstraction wherever everybody tin consciousness safe and creative.”

Now Marney conscionable has to dream an assemblage comes to spot them. “When I started I thought: Oh gosh, it’s astir apt rather unpopular not to beryllium doing ‘new’, but nan consequence hasn’t felt for illustration that.” There’s enthusiasm from venues who can’t big nan bigger UK companies and who nary longer coming Russian touring companies since nan penetration of Ukraine.

Marney hopes he’ll beryllium capable to upend expectations group mightiness person astir ballet being “just tutus and a very agelong evening”. “I deliberation astir my first belief of ballet and that is still why I do it,” he says. “I retrieve not realising that group could beryllium tin of doing that. I conscionable thought, what bonzer things are imaginable pinch telling stories that way, done dance.”

London City Ballet is touring 17 July to 10 August; circuit starts Bath Theatre Royal.

Source theguardian